It's time to look towards the offseason now that the Cubs reportedly have hired a manager. Now that that search has ended it's time to look ahead at to what potential moves the front office might make to improve the club for the 2014 season.
When looking at the 2013 Cubs, there were some bright spots, but at the same time there were a lot of glaring holes that need upgrading moving into next season. Some of the biggest areas that need help are the bullpen and offense.
Right now, I would say the only sure locks for the bullpen next season are James Russell, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva, and Blake Parker, assuming none of them are sent packing in some capacity. Assuming the Cubs go with a 12-man pitching staff for the start of the 2014 season that would leave three spots up for grabs on the pitching staff.
While there are several in-house options to help fix the bullpen such as: Daniel Bard, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Chang-Yong Lim, Brooks Raley, Hector Rondon, and Zac Rosscup, not all of them are going to make the final 25-man roster come the end of Spring Training. If I had to choose from that group I would probably go with Bard, Cabrera, or Grimm. I doubt all three of them will crack the Opening Day roster, but I would think it's safe to say at least one of them will be part of the bullpen to start next season with Cabrera being in the lead since he's out of options.
So that leaves two openings for the bullpen. The Cubs need a second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen in my opinion. Counting on Russell to be the sole lefty in the pen for most of the season for a third consecutive year would be ludicrous. So, here are some bullpen options I think the Cubs should consider with the type of contract I would offer:
Eric O'Flaherty: one-year deal worth $3.5 million with a club option for 2015. O'Flaherty has been one of the best left-handed set-up arms in the National League for the past four seasons. Since he is coming back from Tommy John Surgery, he probably won't command a Scott Downs type deal of three years for $15 million. Assuming there are no complications during his recovery he could be a very valuable asset for the 2014 season.
J.P. Howell: two-year deal worth $6-7 million. Howell has quietly pieced together solid seasons in four out of the past five campaigns. Opponents have hit under .200 against him in three of those years. He would represent a clear upgrade to a team that lacks left-handed relief options throughout the organization.
Joe Smith: two-year deal worth $7.5 million with a mutual option for 2016. Smith has been a stalwart for the Cleveland Indians bullpen since coming over from the New York Mets. He has a career 57.2 percent ground-ball rate, which would be more favorable at the Friendly Confines. Smith is the type of pitcher that I personally yearn for in the bullpen and think he would be an excellent low-cost addition.
My outside the box option would be Chris Perez: one-year deal for $8 million. I know that amount of money probably won't reel him in, but the Cubs need some options for closer and Perez could use the 2014 season to re-establish his value as a closer. While most of his stats have been trending in the wrong direction for the past three seasons (hits/9, HR/9 and walks have been trending upwards), a change of scenery could help him get back on track.
Alright, now the other major pressing issue the Cubs are facing, and that's their lack of offense. The Cubs ranked 28th in the majors in runs scored and on-base percentage. If you can't get runners on then how do you expect to score? The Cubs need guys who can set the stage for Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz, and Mike Olt, (assuming he does end up starting the season in the majors at third base).
Here are some options the Cubs might want to consider:
Shin-Soo Choo: four-year deal worth $70 million. That might not be enough to land Choo, but he sure would be one heck of an addition to the Cubs current lackluster lineup. While everyone eagerly awaits the arrival of outfield prospects Jorge Soler , Albert Almora, and even Kris Bryant, if he's displaced to a corner outfield spot, there's no guarantee that anyone from that trio will succeed in the majors. The Cubs could use a proven bat like Choo. He has a lifetime .389 OBP, has stolen 20 or more bases four times in his career, and can even hit for some power. While his defense isn't that highly regarded, he would still represent an upgrade offensively.
Mark Ellis: one-year deal worth $4.25 million with a club option for 2015. Ellis represents a clear offensive upgrade over current second baseman Darwin Barney. Ellis could be a veteran presence in a relatively young clubhouse and a placeholder for prospects Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara. Ellis plays solid defense and can provide some offensive thump for the Cubs.
Kelly Johnson: two-year deal worth $6.5 million. I envision Johnson in more of the utility-type role he played for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. He can provide some left-handed power off the bench and plays adequate enough defense to not become a major liability.
The outside the box option would be Corey Hart. Like Al mentioned, it might take a bit more to lure Hart away from the Milwaukee Brewers. A one-year deal for $6 million plus incentives that could boost the contract to $8-9 million might work. Al already wrote about whether or not the Cubs should pursue Hart, and personally, I think he would be worth taking a flier on.
Alright, those are my thoughts on who the Cubs should target in the coming weeks. Let's hear what you think about those moves and players you would be interested in the Cubs acquiring.